NASA has announced the purchase of five additional crewed flights from SpaceX as part of their efforts to maintain uninterrupted operations at the International Space Station through 2030.
In a blog post, NASA described the update as “a sole source modification” to its Commercial Crew Transportation Capabilities (CCtCap) contract with SpaceX. SpaceX’s Crew-4 is currently docked at the ISS, and NASA also purchased three flights from SpaceX in February for Crew-7, Crew-8, and Crew-9. The addition of five more missions brings the total number of planned future flights from the company to eight (and, ostensibly, through Crew-14).
As of now, SpaceX is NASA’s only certified commercial crew transportation provider, “capable of providing safe, reliable, and cost-effective human space transportation services” that “ensure a continuous human presence aboard the microgravity laboratory.” Under the CCtCap contract, NASA has also been working with Boeing on the development of un-crewed flights and hinted that, after the success of Boeing’s recent Orbital Flight Test-2, they “hope to be able to certify [Boeing’s crewed] Starliner system in the near future.”
“Our goal has always been to have multiple providers for crewed transportation to the space station,” says Phil McAllister, director of commercial space at NASA. But the agency notes that the SpaceX crew transportation system, which will fly its sixth rotational mission for NASA in 2023, is “the only one currently certified to maintain crewed flight to the space station while helping to ensure redundant and backup capabilities through 2030.”
This purchase of five additional missions is an extension of a partnership between NASA and SpaceX that began in 2006 when NASA tapped the company to supply crew and cargo resupply demonstration contracts to the ISS. NASA notes that this latest contract modification “does not preclude NASA from seeking additional contract modifications in the future for additional transportation services as needed,” which means we may be learning about the purchase of more missions from SpaceX in the very near future.